V. The Polity: Obstacles to First-Best Policy

The modern nation-state is composed of individual branches (e.g., in the United States, the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial), bureaucracies, interest groups and individuals that attempt to formulate or influence policy.  This idea of a disaggregated state waters down - without fully diluting - the notion of puristic state rationality in the policy decision-making process, as evidenced through the historically dysfunctional policies heretofore implemented in the United States.  For example, in some cases, a particular policy may be suggested in order to enhance the power, prestige or standing of one internal organization at the expense of others.  Although this may seem rational from the perspective of the individual organization, it can lead to poor if not disastrous policies at the national level.  The pursuit of individual value-maximizing strategies at the sub-state level can lead to collective disaster at the state level. 114   This important distinction reveals that the decision-making process is typically one of coalition and counter-coalition building, bargaining and compromising that may not yield a first-best or optimal decision as decision-makers are faced with misperception, imperfect information, bias, stress and uncertainty about cause and effect. 115  Therefore, to speak of United States immigration policy is to speak of a number of policy decisions determined by competition among a number of sub-actors within the state, as organized and undergirded by broad constituencies.


In the context of American liberal democracy, primary political importance centers on how elected policy-makers are constrained by political self-preservation at the expense of enacting workable comprehensive reform.  This involves the concept of political economy which conjoins the economic and social dimensions of the immigration reform debate, and differs from formal economics in that it is directly concerned with policy-making and policy implementation.  Even where economic theory’s conclusions (e.g., that the above-formulated first-best policy would in fact maximize the U.S. economic national interest) are judged correct in a scientific sense, the political economist must go one step further and judge their correctness in a human sense.  Whether the conclusions ascertained by certain theories and empirical analyses, in light of the particular institutions (i.e., the values and goals) of the concerned group of people, lend themselves to formal policies that the United States polity is willing to accept and implement is the key element of advancing any particular policy prescription. 116  Accordingly, the most effective method for gauging the political feasibility necessary for formulating best-choice immigration policy reform is to understand contemporary public opinion on the issues of immigration, as well as the levels of organization and political activism among the country’s competing special and public interest groups.  The following analysis will provide useful guidance in understanding the possibilities for directing immigration policy toward an equitable moderate solution.

114 Viotti, International Relations Theory, 8.


115 Ibid.


116 Ronald Müller, "A Note on Political Economy," International Economics course syllabus, Spring 2006.